Sammy G: Came from the bottom

The hip-hop and rap industry in Fiji has only emerged in the last couple of years and the man credited behind this is rapper Sammy G, director of Underdawg Productions.

In early June, Underdawg Productions released on YouTube Sammy G’s latest video which was recorded in April 2009 at Underdawg studios in Fiji and shot in Papua New Guinea when Sammy G moved to there to open up Underdawg Productions. I caught up with Sammy G to talk about Came from the Bottom.

Came from the Bottom was written about my personal upbringing. The song boasts a lot of Fiji style rap slangs like “I got grills too”, “check my BBQ”, plus “I always stay covered with my tattoos”.

While (in PNG) I happened to get my cameras into the underground side of life with Raskols and many crime infested settlements. The neighbourhood featured in the video is Gerehu (Port Morsby), a very high level crime area and most of the guys on the video were wanted criminals and murderers trying to look at another outlet other than crime. My little contribution in the Guns amnesty in PNG.

Hip Hop’s final frontier

Felix Chaudhary
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Fiji Times

The Pacific, Fiji included, could be the final frontier for hip-hop music and culture in its purest form. The fad that began in the Bronx in the 70’s as a vehicle for expression and reflected the reality of urban life- the trials and tribulations, falling in love, youth issues and the struggle to survive in the ‘concrete jungle’.

In the 90’s and at the start of the new millennium artists like P.Diddy, 50Cent and Nelly began what purists call the ‘bastardisation’ of hip-hop. Their lyrics moved away from a reflection of urban street culture to the glorification of money, bling, the degradation of females and sexual depravity.

“The stuff they spinnin’ out now ‘aint even real. You can’t call it hip-hop, its hip-pop- that’s what it is,” explained MC, human rights activist and actor Mos Def in a recent television interview.

“Rap is something you do. Hip-hop is something you live,” said American MC and producer KRS-One on the definition of hip hop. He is one of the many legitimate artists of the opinion that hip hop in the mainstream has been misunderstood and is fast fading as an art form in the United States.

Hip-hop purists believe that the media is responsible for spreading the misconception and insist that hip-hop is not a genre of music but rather a lifestyle, culture and way of life. Music is but one facet of this movement that grew out of the Bronx, New York City. Graffiti art, urban fashion DJing, MCing and break dancing make up the other parts and serious hip-hop artists like Run DMC, De La Soul and Public Enemy regard current mainstream artists like Soulja Boy, 50 Cent, P.Diddy and Nelly as hip-pop rather than the real deal.

On the local scene, hip-hop and rap industry pioneer Sammy G is spearheading the spread of the ghetto gospel- paying homage to the godfathers of hip-hop with socially conscious, thought provoking lyrics and fresh hypnotic beats under the banner of Underdawg Productions. Way before House Party, 67Ciwa and Suva City became household anthems Fiji’s rap master was passionately plying his trade, unknowingly becoming a trendsetter in the process.

Sammy G’s debut single was a lyrical duet with another industry pioneer Psycho 2- called Liquid Poison, recorded in 1999 the song dealt with the evils of alcohol abuse. I caught up with the visionary producer and had a chat about the unique sounds that are emerging from all around the country.

What inspired you to get into rap/hip-hop?
I loved poetry, and was infatuated with how rappers would play with words; I loved the attitude, and most of all the beats. From as early as 1993, I started rapping, freestyling and beatboxing. I was put on detention (at Marist Brothers High School) most of the time for rapping in the classrooms.

Which hip-hop/rap artists have you recorded so far?
I’ve worked closely through the years with my original group, 18ZERO, that’s my homies DGO & PCUZZO. I’ve recorded with Mr Grin, Nemoney (From Lautoka), Redchild (from Nakasi), Lil Leps (From Nakasi), Rabbit (BSB), Silvabak (BSB), BSB Boys (Brown st. Boys), Faith & Hope (ABM), Free (member of ABM), Willow (member of K.A.M.A), Skinny (BSQ), RA2 (Sydney), MC Trey (Sydney), Tukane (Am Samoa), Slo Mo, J Hennesy & Eric (Bloodfire), Deuce (K.A.M.A), Melita (The Unknowns), Suli & Natalie (The Unknowns), Braca Tux (Kinoya), Skills (Troop 10)

How many tracks have you recorded so far?
So Far, collectively, we have 106 tracks ready on wax. It is now a matter of proper mastering, compiling and distribution.

What makes Fijian hip-hop/rap unique?
Firstly, I think it’s our accents… it’s not American, it’s not Aussie, not poly, it’s uniquely Fiji type slang.

Secondly because English is compulsory in our schools, we write some pretty wicked lines- rich with metaphors and similes. Plus we keepin’ it real, we write about real life stuff.

Thirdly, I think it works in our favour that hip-hop is still fresh here-we’re so unknown. I say that because everyone’s heard of Samoan Rappers, Tongan Rappers, and Kiwi etc. In this region, to finally hear something coming out of Fiji, come on, everyone will definitely stop and listen. Its way overdue.

You are regarded as the pioneer of this genre of music in Fiji, what do you think about that?
I’m humbled by that. I just wish the cats that used to do this with me way back in 1996 were still around. That’s G.O.G, C LOK, SKYE, PSYCHO 2 and P ROCK. We did some bizarre stuff back in the day. But at present, we’ve got some voices that wanna be heard- up-coming rappers to watch out for in the future.

Have you considered doing collaborations with other local artists from a different genre?
Yes definitely. We’ve done some tracks with Melita, Willow and Joycelyn Sahai. Mr Grin and I are still trying to do a Metal/rap track with a talented guitarist called Adrian Narayan… we just haven’t found the time.

Rap/Hip hop has been around since the late 70s but has only just emerged in Fiji due largely to yourself, how far can this music go and is there a possibility of local artists hitting the world stage?
Fiji hip-hop can go a long way. One example is, back in 2004 I did a track called House Party, even though it was a mix tape, it was hitting Fijians up in California, New York, Auckland, Sydney and the Middle East. I mean, if Savage, a New Zealand born Samoan can do it and make it big in the US, I see no reason why Redchild or Mr Grin can’t do it as well. But first, we’ve gotta shine here in the Pacific.

How can up-coming artists get recorded at Underdawg? How can you help the music develop in Fiji?
I believe Underdawg has helped hip hop in Fiji and will continue to help hip hop in Fiji. If I see potential in your delivery, your writing and your swagger, I would definitely record you for free and maybe even do a video clip for free. And with the huge support of our two radio stations, FM 96 and 2Day FM together with the newspapers and our TV stations… you can get your message out there and you’re on your way to being a household name.

Is there an East coast-West coast rivalry in terms of rap styles in Fiji?
In the US, yes. The east coast style is more lyrically based, the West is more beats, and the South is more bling bling. In Fiji, nope! I reckon we are all united. I know there are good rappers out there that still haven’t been heard yet. Grin and I have had numerous individuals who have tried to break through … we will help in any way. We need to get our first album out, so hip hop can officially make its name in Fiji, thus opening more doors for the new rappers.

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